Posts Tagged ‘Polly Sampson’

Leonard Cohen on Hydra

July 20, 2020

In 1960 Leonard Cohen bought a house on the Greek Island of Hydra.

Once you’ve lived on Hydra you can’t live anywhere else, including Hydra. — Kenneth Koch

Leonard Cohen wished for somewhere quiet to write. He left Montreal on his first trip outside North America with a Canadian Arts Council Grant of $2,000 and one published book of poetry. He was writing a novel or trying to, blackening the pages three pages a day. Hydra seemed the ideal place, warm and sunny, especially compared with cold and grey and damp London. He arrived on Hydra with his green Olivetti. He had taken up an offer of Barbara Rothschild to stay on the island, only when he arrived at the house and mentioned her name, he was turned away by the housekeeper ‘we don’t need any more Jews here’. Leonard Cohen put a curse on the house and within six months it had burnt to the ground.

Prior to the purchase of his house, Charmian Clift and George Johnston offered a room in their house. He would sit writing on their terrace.

It was on Hydra he met Marianne and where he wrote ‘So Long Marianne’ and ‘Bird on the Wire’.

In a letter to his mother:

It has a huge terrace with a view of dramatic mountain and shining white houses. The rooms are large and cool with deep windows set in thick walls. I suppose it’s about 200 years old and many generations of sea-.men must have lived here. I will do a little work on it every year and in a few years it will be a mansion… I live on a hill and life has been going on here exactly the same for hundreds of years. All through the day you hear the calls of the street vendors and they are really rather musical… I get up around 7 generally and work till about noon. Early morning is coolest and therefore best, but I love the heat anyhow, especially when the Aegean Sea is 10 minutes from my door.

What more could an unknown writer ask for?

He was part of a group of writers and artist and poets who used to meet at Κατσικάς Katsikas.

One of his friends Charmian Clift wrote Peel Me A Lotus her account of living on Hydra in the late 1950s.

They were all cursed. Charmian Clift killed herself after leaving Hydra, George died a year later.

His first concert in Australia was dedicated to the couple and he opened with ‘Bird on the Wire’.

We have photographer James Burke to thank for a series of photographs of these days in 1960 on Hydra.

A Theatre for Dreamers a fictional account by Polly Samson seen through the eyes of an 18-year-old girl, who with a thousand pounds left to her by her mother escapes from an abusive father. She reads a book Peel Me A Lotus by Charmian Clift, sent to her mother by the author a close friend of her mother, of life on Hydra. She remembers the friend of her mother from when she was a child and writes to her asking if she can find her a room to rent.

We start in 2016, Leonard Cohen has recently died, a very sad loss, and Trump has won the US Presidential elections. Word reaches Hydra ‘and spread rapidly like a stench along the agora. There were horrified groans, even from the donkeys, disbelieving splutters from every table, passer-by and boat. For a moment it was a comfort to think at least Leonard had been spared this.’


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